How playing volleyball outdoors will help your game indoors

by Jeff Smith

My older daughter, Jessica, played setter for three years in middle school. My wife and I have hundreds of photos of her setting her teammates for attacks. But, at just 4 feet 11 inches tall, she wasn't confident that she had much of a future at the position in high school.

The summer after eighth-grade graduation, Jessica and her sister joined a beach volleyball program that dramatically altered her volleyball career path. The girls quickly grew to enjoy sand volleyball, entering a slew of area tournaments and playing in practices and recreationally every chance they got. Jessica especially loved the opportunity to serve receive, defend and pursue balls all over the court. Sand soon became a mainstay in our bathtub that summer!

By the time her first year of beach volleyball had ended, Jessica's quickness, court coverage and passing and ball-control skills had markedly improved, convincing her to try out for the public high school's freshman A volleyball team at a new position as a libero/defensive specialist. She made the team, became their starting libero and has started at libero for her school and club teams ever since ... all while continuing to hit the sand courts for the last three summers.

And this new path began during a beach volleyball class in West Chicago.

Not every volleyball athlete will undergo the drastic change in their career trajectory that Jessica did. But, if your son or daughter works diligently at their beach game in the weeks ahead, they will see skill development that will translate to their indoor volleyball experience, whether they play for a club, school or park district program. When kids get serious about beach volleyball, it makes a significant impact on their all-around skills, understanding of the game and even their speed and athleticism on the court. After spending seven weeks this summer getting to do it all in beach volleyball -- serve, pass, set, hit, dig, block and play the ball every other contact -- transitioning to a specialized role as a middle blocker, opposite or outside hitter, defensive specialist, setter or libero in six-player indoor volleyball is a considerable adjustment; the indoor game can seem slower and even less enjoyable by comparison.

But don't just take my word for it. John Kessel, USA Volleyball director of beach volleyball, is far wiser about the sport's benefits than I am. Mr. Kessel recently wrote, "The beach game is GREAT for improving your indoor game. Whatever your weaknesses are, you get to work on them a ton. Unlike the six-person (indoor) game, you touch the ball in every rally. And with just two of you covering the court, you learn to read and anticipate much better. Dealing with the sun and wind helps you be more adaptable. Player height is less important outdoors; ball control and skill is most important. It is a great way to improve your jump, as there are just two of you to block and hit every rally, and communicating effectively is essential in the sport. Most top-level coaches encourage their players to play as much as they can on the beach."

Like anything worthwhile in life, beach volleyball isn't easy. But as the old saying goes, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Here's to putting our hearts into learning, growing, making mistakes, failing, succeeding and making progress over the next five weeks!